Ten years ago this week Legally Blonde, starring Reese Witherspoon, was about to hit movie theaters, as was Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake. Another remake, “Lady Marmalade,” by Christina Aguilera, L’il Kim and Pink, was one of the top hits on the radio.
It is also believed that 10 years ago this week, 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta flew off to Spain to meet with fellow terrorist Ramzi bin al-Shibh, where they were finalizing plans for an attack that would change the course of world history, and to this day weighs upon thousands and thousand of families from Washington, D.C. to Rockaway Beach.
It is a question that cannot be asked too many times -- has it really been nearly 10 years?
Alas, it has. And as the weeks build up to that awful anniversary two months from now, wounds that had never closed will be aggravated again, scars that never healed will ache once more.
Perhaps that is why I’m pulling for Denis Leary’s FX cable show Rescue Me to do something magical, as its final season on the air opens this week, Wednesday night, July 13 at 10 p.m.
Mind you, Leary and the show’s creators are the ones who put tons of pressure on themselves. They timed the show’s final season so that the final episode would air just as the nation was grappling with the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
But Leary and Peter Tolan and all the other guys who created this memorable show were never short of nerves.
Imagine believing that just three years after the 9/11 attacks tore a hole into the heart of New York’s cop-and-firefighter country -- Bay Ridge, Throgs Neck, Woodside, almost all of Staten Island -- that you could put a show on the air that would not only wrestle with this tragedy, but also make people laugh. In a recent interview with the New York Daily News, Leary said, “I hope what they remember is the laughter and tears.”
Now, it must be said that there is another reason I’m pulling for Rescue Me to finish up strong. Because over the course of its seven-year run on TV, the show has had its fair share of weak moments.
That can pretty much be said of any show on TV. But, like a family member, it feels worse when something close to you doesn’t rise to the highest level.
Forgettable moments include a rather preposterous plot line a few years back about a sexually abusive priest Tommy and his cop brother get involved with.
Then there was the heart-wrenching death of Tommy’s son, a profound event in anyone’s life, which in subsequent seasons…has kind of been forgotten.
But at its best, there has rarely been anything as powerful as Rescue Me, which makes it not only a great TV show but a very important contribution to Irish American culture.
Even when the humor leans too hard on fart jokes, and the hopping from bed to bed among the sex-crazed characters becomes forgettable and the plot lines spin into the realm of absurdity, Leary and Tolan always had something important to say about blue collar men and women, a group sorely misunderstood on television and across the media landscape.
In particular, this was a balanced look at Irish Americans and their stereotypes and their place in the world’s greatest city in the 21st century, having absorbed the most brutal blow that city has ever seen.
At its best -- a guilt-ridden Tommy Gavin dousing himself in alcohol, Tommy at a ball game with his difficult father who’s just died -- Rescue Me veered into Eugene O’Neill territory, with its unflinching look at family and Catholicism and the particular ways Irish folks tend to heal, as well as hurt, one another.
So, how do you end a show like this?
"We're not talking too much about specifics," Tolan told the News. "There are some large things that happen. We are, in the tradition of all great shows, killing off a major character very near the end of the series. We're not giving any hints."
Great art need not be realistic. Great art takes reality and bends it and manipulates it until something shocking and brilliant emerges.
Rescue Me hasn’t always been pretty. But it has been great. And decades from now when people want to understand post-9/11 New York – and Irish America – they will have to take a long, hard look at Rescue Me.
Here’s hoping Leary and Co. can pull this off one more time.
(Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/tomdeignan)